The World: Insider's view - China

2007 is regarded as hugely auspicious by the Chinese, which is just as well as the country gears up to host the 2008 Olympic Games, Clive Punter writes.

Happy New Year. Chinese New Year, that is, and a very auspicious year it is, at that, being the year of the pig. It's also a golden year, which only happens every 60 years.

Omens and superstitions feature large in China, and this year has started off on just the right note.

And so it should, as we draw near to the Olympic opening ceremony on a date with all the lucky eights - 08/08/08. On that day, Beijing will be in the world spotlight and it is already having a massive effect on Beijing and all of China.

The entire nation watches. The enormous Olympic clocks in Tiananmen Square and by the main exit road from Beijing Capital airport count down the days. New subway lines are proliferating. Poster sites gleam with messages of diplomacy, promoting the recent African leaders' visit, which many believe was one of the dress rehearsals for the Olympics. All this is good for our outdoor business, of course.

Over at the Olympic village, the all-new Beijing national stadium in the form of an enormous bird's nest will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 29th Olympiad. A highly motivating promotional video runs on the expanding number of LCD billboards and restaurant screens, featuring children, sports heroes and action. Cultural programmes run in parallel - taxi drivers are being trained not to hawk and spit from their cabs, instead being issued with spittoons discreetly placed at cabstands so as not to inconvenience or offend their honoured foreign guests. Nothing is being left to chance.

With 18 months still to run, the global brands that are official sponsors (including the Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo) are already beginning a sustained assault on the minds, senses and wallets of the emerging middle class, in the country where new mobile handset registrations each year outnumber those for the whole of Europe.

So the main message is "don't be left behind". Beijing is caught in an unstoppable upward wave, and savvy advertisers are getting in now to enjoy the huge surge of awareness that the Olympics brings.

Already the fourth-largest economy, and the third-largest ad market, China will overtake Germany in the league tables in the next 12 months. Will this be symbolic of the final medals table, too? Do not rule out a clean sweep of Chinese medals in sports as diverse as tennis, weight-lifting and kayaking. And remember too that a core aim of the games from Beijing's standpoint will be to promote the idea that "made in China" can be synonymous with "high quality".

Will London live up to Beijing's splendid example? Will London bring even a fraction of the determination, the investment in infrastructure and the rejuvenation so evident here? I hope so. Who knows, Britain might even top the medals table, too. And golden pigs might fly!

- Clive Punter is the chief executive of CBS Outdoor International.